I work in an office building in downtown Manhattan and it's basically your standard cube farm. I don't think the offices have been touched since the early 70's. So, when my agency first moved into it, my friend and I were trying to find ways to spruce up our workspaces a bit with plants and what not.
Conveniently, the "hip" kind of plant to have around now is like a cactus or succulent of some sort. (My generation is awesome. Millennials will trend ANYTHING. Plants? Those have been around since always, but ok.) So they're pretty easy to find at a corner market somewhere in NYC. That's lucky for me because they don't require a lot of attention. A green thumb I am not. Plants have been known to die on my watch in record time.
After a while though, this cactus I bought started to concern me because it lacked authenticity. Like....it started to seem fake. But, it was in real soil! The trickery! I would water and water it and it didn't even matter. Also, there was an orange flower on top of it that wouldn't seem to grow or wilt no matter what I did. My co-workers would just laugh at me as they watered their real plants. We finally decided that it definitely was fake (much to my chagrin) and then it became a running joke in the office.
I left it out for a while after that and then set it on top of a shelf in the corner and forgot about it for about 6 months.
A couple days ago, another co-worker came into my office and said "Shannon! How do you kill a cactus?" At first, I had no idea what he was talking about. And then it hit me like a ton of bricks. I looked up on top of the shelf and there was that old cactus, gray and tired as it had ever looked, but still planted in the pot on top of my shelf.
It was real after all! I had just convinced myself it was a fake plant because I wasn't seeing any immediate results. It was so sturdy after all and I, the expert of plant murdering, had paid so little attention to it that I thought it MUST be fake. I couldn't possibly be keeping a real plant alive like that.
Well, I couldn't wait to tell everyone and we had a long laugh over that one. The audacity of that plant!
But, I couldn't help but feel like there is a lesson in that somewhere. I think we can treat our lives a lot like my fake/real cactus.
Sometimes, we want something so bad and when God gives it to us, we don't know how to keep it up. Other times, we don't recognize answered prayers for what they are. We say to God "This doesn't look exactly like I thought it would." Or we're thrown into doubt because it doesn't feel like the dream we asked for.
We try to work at it and when things don't turn out exactly like we want, we give up. We grow weary of pounding the ground. We stop pouring into it.
We stop watering the dream.
The great thing about a flower in the desert though is that they can still come back to life. Flowers that were made to thrive in desert conditions know how to stand up to a drought. They might go a long time without the water they need to thrive, but when the rain comes, they bounce back.
It might look dead to you, but God can still bear fruit from the dream. And then, when your dreams are finally realized and you are living in days you never thought you'd see, your story will give Him glory. You'll know it wasn't you that made the dream, because you had already given up on it. The best kind of dreams are the ones that turn into blessings, the ones you know could have only come to pass through His divine plan and purpose in you.
But Blessed is the man who trusts me, God,
the woman who sticks with God,
They're like trees replanted in Eden,
putting down roots near the rivers -
Never a worry through the hottest of summers,
never dropping a leaf,
Serene and calm through droughts,
bearing fresh fruit every season.
Jeremiah 17:8 MSG
I researched about ten different versions of this scripture. But, there's something specifically wonderful about the Message translation. It is the only version that says the faithful are like trees re-planted by the river.
I think sometimes, when life gets tough and you find yourself facing decisions left and right and you don't know what to do, you have to choose to replant yourself in good soil. Replant yourself and commit to stir up faith to walk out the dream God has placed in your heart.
In the seasons where your efforts seem fruitless, when it starts to seem like it doesn't matter what you do, how you contribute, or how much you pray and seek God, nothing changes,replant yourself in that vision you first had.
Even in the dry seasons, when your circumstances make you think the rain has dried up and the dream is dead, not because something bad has happened but maybe because nothing has happened,replant yourself by the river of God's blessing and simply await your flourishing moment.
I am the desert flower. Maybe you are the desert flower. Perhaps we need to choose to replant ourselves in the only thing that can quench the thirst in our souls, Jesus, while we wait for Him to do His work.
Listening: While I wrote this, I was listening to "A Place Only You Can Go" by Needtobreathe. <3
I need a timeout. Social media has become too big a priority for me and I've absent-mindedly given it too much authority over my time. After reading this blog today (#JOMO is a thing, catch on world) and hearing my pastor speak for the past couple of weeks about the importance of creating space in your life, I decided that this break (particularly from Instagram) was a necessary one. I have curated my Instagram account in such a way that I follow mostly people who inspire me with their creativity. So, it's generally a good thing. From photographers to fashion bloggers and foodies, the bulk of my Instagram feed consists of beautiful images of work worthy of appreciation in the form of a "double tap." (I also just have some really talented friends if I may say so.) I see the platform as a place where people share knowledge and ideas. It's the reason I love it so much more than any of the other social media platforms. But, I find that lately it's too much of a good thing. I'm struggling with comparison in ways that I shouldn't and I don't like the feeling of anxiety I get when I can't access it for more than a certain amount of time. Being tied to something like that doesn't fit into the freedom life that I am designed for. I recently realized I was checking Insta on my phone upwards of thirty times a day on average. Any time I am even slightly bored or find myself in a mildly awkward social situation, the phone comes out and I am looking at pictures so fast that sometimes I don't even realize what I am doing. I started using it as a sort of safety net when I'm too lazy to put it down and have an actual conversation and I don't like that. I spend way more time looking at little square photos on my phone than I do praying or meditating, talking to my family, or actually creating any of the wonderful things I have been inspired to by the people I follow there. Anil Dash discusses a beautiful idea in his blog about the "Joy of Missing Out." "Being the one in control of what moves me, what I feel obligated by, and what attachments I have to fleeting experiences is not an authority that I'm willing to concede to the arbitrary whims of an app on my mobile phone. I think more and more people are going to retake this agency over their feelings about being social, as well. That's a joyful thing." So, I decided to take the next week completely off of not just Instagram, but all social media platforms as a trial run to experience some #JOMO. Some people are probably saying "A week? Really? WTF?" But that's huge for me, someone who (literally) works in, volunteers with, eats and breathes social. The point is to come back with fresh perspective and more healthy habits. If that means I am only getting on Instagram once or twice a day, so be it. If I want to extend the social fast for another week...great! As for work, I'll still have to log on intermittently for my job(s), but I won't check my own accounts. I want to have some time to catch up to myself and utilize the "moments" to actually think for a second. I don't want to be afraid of the nothingness.
Why announce it like it's some big deal? I mean, people survived for...well, for always without social media up to this point. I guess I hope by posting this it encourages some of my friends to also think about what we're sowing into and how we're spending our time. I don't want us to be known as the generation who won't look up.
Clear eyes. Full hearts. Can't lose, right?
1 John 4:17-18 God is love. When we take up permanent residence in a life of love, we live in God and God lives in us. This way, love has the run of the house, becomes at home and mature in us, so that we’re free of worry on Judgment Day—our standing in the world is identical with Christ’s. There is no room in love for fear. Well-formed love banishes fear. Since fear is crippling, a fearful life—fear of death, fear of judgment—is one not yet fully formed in love.
Is Galatians 5 the actual most comprehensive chapter in the
Bible? Because every word on the page has hit me like a wave today.
Christ has set us free
to live a free life. So take your stand! Never again let anyone put a harness
of slavery on you.
I think it's interesting that Paul felt like he needed to
use the word "free" two times in this sentence in his letter to the
church in Galatia. You would think it would be enough just to simply say
"Christ has set us free." That's a pretty bold statement in and of
But, the Galatians still were not taking God's promise at
face value. Some of them were quick to believe the old religious leaders who
had come back into the community to hit them with the rulebook and judge them. So they went back to running around trying to
prove themselves worthy, even though Jesus has already done all the work by
going to the Cross. They were using religion as a tool to get closer to God.
But, Paul says no. Not at all.
Jesus Christ set us free to live a free life, not to be bound the inconsequential rules and laws that
kept us down in the first place. Christ set us free so that we would accept his gift and live a free life.
Our lives should look like a blast, really. (Speaking into
my own life so much right now.) He called us to live a FREE life. You can replace that word and say He set us free to live
a fun, true, authentic, glorious,
light-filled, happy life. We carry His name when we accept Him into our
hearts and our lives represent that name. We have access to the best kind of
existence there is. In Matthew 11:28, Jesus says that if we follow him, our
burden will be easy and light. That should appeal to this world, where
everything looks dark sometimes. People who live of this world struggle with depression, pain, addiction, stress,
worry, and doubt. Our lives should look like an invitation to them.
So, we don't walk around our neighborhood with frowns on our
faces, kept down by religious practices and rules and contrived spiritual
imprisonment. WE. ARE. FREE.
If you want to follow the religious rules and practices of
an extremely structured environment, fine. Some people still stand up when a
preacher reads from the Bible in church, out of reverence. That's cool. Some
people only listen to "Christian music" (sidenote: aren’t all talents and gifts bestowed upon us by God, really
having nothing to do with our own worthiness and therefore isn't any Christian
that makes music technically making Christian music? Another blog, another
What Paul is saying is, don’t think for a second that any of
that qualifies you for anything and don't you dare try to confine other people
by tempting them into a life defined by rules and religion, rather than a
relationship with the Spirit. For me, I think it can be easy to get conviction
confused with confinement.
Paul even goes as far as to say that if you submit to a
rule-keeping system, you’re not only doing yourself a disservice, but you are
actually squandering Jesus Christ's
hard won gift of freedom.
Gal. 5: 4-6
I suspect you would
never intend this, but this is what happens. When you attempt to live by your
own religious plans and projects, you are cut off from Christ, you fall out of
grace. Meanwhile we expectantly wait for a satisfying relationship with the
Spirit. For in Christ, neither our most conscientious religion nor disregard of
religion amounts to anything. What
matters is something far more interior: faith expressed in love.
Um. I don't know about you, but the last thing I need is to
fall out of grace. I need Jesus so much, it's ridiculous. I am incredibly
selfish. Like seriously, that is my numero uno sin if that were such a thing.
My mind is constantly consumed with all the ways I can serve myself. What will
make me happy? How far will this get me in my career? Where should I
be living, working, etc? It's really #enoughalready.
Paul addresses that, too.
Live freely, animated
and motivated by God's Spirit. Then you won't feed the compulsions of
selfishness. For there is a root of sinful self-interest in us that is at odds with
a free spirit, just as the free spirit is incompatible with selfishness. These
two ways of life are antithetical, so that you cannot live at times one way and
at times another way according to how you feel on any given day. Why don't you
choose to be led by the Spirit and so escape the erratic compulsions of a
WHAT. Yep, that's for me. Hit me where it hurts.
So, we shouldn't live by a set of made up rules. We should
just live by faith and be guided by the Spirit and nothing else. I wish someone would have sat me down and
said this very thing to me the day I first met Jesus. I could have avoided a
lot of wasted time trying to be good.
In the same way that it squanders the gift of the Cross to live
by anything other than His grace and gift, we know it's wrong to misrepresent
His name. We live free lives so that we are not controlled by heretical
religion (which is of this world) and
also so that we are not controlled by the vices the world tries to offer us
(which are also of this world.)
Certainly, it's possible to misinterpret Paul's letter to the
Galatians to say that all things are permissible. That's not true at all and
that isn't what he meant.
Gal 5: 13-15
It is absolutely clear
that God has called you to a free life. Just make sure that you don't use this
freedom as an excuse to do whatever you want to do and destroy your freedom. Rather,
use your freedom to serve one another in love, that's how freedom grows. For
everything we know about God's word is summed up in a single sentence: Love
others as you love yourself.
While we try to avoid being tied down by the nonsense
distraction that is religion, we should be equally as wary of things that would
seek to divert us from our purpose.
*For instance, drinking in social environments and in moderation doesn't
detract from your Christianity at all.
But, it sets a bad example to lose your self-control in a
form of escapism. The best way I have ever heard it put is by my pastor who
once said it this way: He was discussing a new song called "Get Faded," in which the lyrics go something like "I
wake up in the morning, get faded. Go to work. Get faded." His retort was
that that is a terrible way to live, because God is doing something spectacular
in each of our lives and collectedly in this City and the world, and I don't
want to miss a single second of that by being out of my mind.
Truthfully, I don't want to escape my life. And I don't want
to distort it by prescribing to the humanistic ideals the world has put in
front of me. From the outside looking in, it looks like there are just two
choices. Accept religion or accept this world as it is. But, I reject them both.
I choose the only honest way I know how to live, and that's to listen to the
One who holds the future of the world in his hands.
I feel like every lyric in this song pretty much sums it up...
"Lord, I Need You" -Chris Tomlin
Lord I come, I confess. Bowing here, I find my rest. Without You, I fall apart. You're the one that guides my heart.
Lord, I need You, oh I need You. Every hour I need You. My one defense, my righteousness- Oh God, how I need You. Where sin runs deep, Your grace is more. Where grace is found is where You are. And where You are, Lord I am free. Holiness is Christ in me. Yes, where You are Lord I am free. Holiness is Christ in me. So teach my soul to rise to You, when temptation comes my way. And when I cannot stand I'll fall on You. Jesus You're my hope and stay. And when I cannot stand I'll fall on You. Jesus You're my hope and stay.
*Not an all-inclusive statement for people who struggle with
addictions and self-control. I can see how it would probably best to stay away
all together in that case; listening to the Spirit guiding you. I am certainly
not qualified to give advice on that matter. Only God can do that.